General Obligation Bond, MAPS 3 Overage Projects Take Shape During Oklahoma City Council Meeting

Dec 16, 2016

Earlier this week the Oklahoma City Council met for a special session at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City to discuss the general obligation bond to pay for city government that will go before voters in 2017.

The GO bond issue comes before voters once every 10 years, and pays for things like street repairs, rainwater drainage, and police station buildings for several years at a time. The 2007 bond issue totaled just under $836 million, but the new bond issue could total more than $1 billion, The Journal Record’s Brian Brus reports:

In addition to deciding how much money City Hall needs, the City Council must figure out how quickly residents can afford to pay back the debt to investors via property tax collections. In Oklahoma, the annual tax bill property owners receive from the county assessor’s office represents the total of all property taxes levied by the county, city, local school districts and other special districts. Property tax levies are defined in units called mills: $1 for each $1,000 of assessed value, or $0.001 per $1.

Voters must approve new debt, however; City Council members cannot hike tax rates on their own. That’s where Tuesday’s discussion centered after a thorough background presentation by city staff.

Finance Director Craig Freeman said the 2017 GO bond program will need to fall between $400 million and $1.4 billion, depending on the term of the bonds and the property tax rate. A simple matrix of possible combinations of those factors places the smaller figure at 16 mills repaid over five years and the larger figure at 20 mills over 10 years.

But there is risk going with that higher figure – 20 mills over 10 years – could hurt the city’s credit rating, according to The Journal Record’s editor and associate publisher Ted Streuli.

“Some of the recommendations were that they not go over 18 mills,” Streuli said. “An average person, with a $150,000 house in Oklahoma County, would see an increase in their annual property taxes of about 2 percent. So at 16 mills going up to 18 mills, property taxes go from $1,777 up to about $1,808.”

Resident surveys indicate citizens want the city to invest more in streets, traffic lights, and bridges, as well as drainage, parks, police and fire infrastructure, and other economic development initiatives.

More MAPS Money

A MAPS 3 project under construction is the Senior Health and Wellness Center at NW 117th Street and Rockwell Avenue in Oklahoma City.
Credit Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

The council also discussed MAPS 3 on Tuesday. Oklahoma City voters approved a one-cent sales tax extension in 2009 to pay for a series of civic improvements and so-called quality-of-life projects.

City Manager Jim Couch said Tuesday about $39 million of the $777 million total price tag haven’t been earmarked due to cautious projections and cost savings. Streuli said a handful of proposals were considered this week.

“The one that came up at the council meeting was to build a public parking garage near the new convention center. It would be able to serve motorists both for the convention center, the streetcar, the proposed hotel, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena,” Streuli said. “There have been some other ideas this week. One is building a fifth senior wellness center or adding to the plan for sidewalks and trails, or even down on the river doing some more work at Riversport Rapids.”

From Brus:

Councilman Ed Shadid questioned the good sense of investing in another parking garage when it appears that autonomously driven vehicles will soon fill the streets. When Councilwoman Meg Salyer pointed out that they’ll still need to be kept somewhere, Shadid said the cars will be shared by several people, further reducing the need for more parking spaces.

The issue will likely be submitted at a regular council meeting for discussion and action, a process that takes several weeks and allows for public input.

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